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What are the alternatives to plastic straws?

plastic waste including plastic straws and plastic bottles on a beach

What are the alternatives to plastic straws for disabled people and should you make a switch?

It won’t have escaped your attention that plastic straws have been in the headlines throughout 2018. With the seas full of plastic particles, and sea life choking to death around the world on the discarded remains of our consumer culture, attention has moved on from plastic carrier bags and onto the humble drinking straw. In England alone it is estimated that some 4.6 billion of them are disposed of each year. Ahead of EU legislation coming into effect, they are likely to be banned – and some major food retailers, including the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks, have already announced their intention to stop using single use plastic straws in favour of biodegradable cardboard.

This is great news for sea life, but potentially much worse news for many disabled people, for whom the alternatives are not always practical – and in some cases actively dangerous.

For example, metal straws are often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to single use plastic straws, as they can be cleaned for re-use over and over. However, many people live with conditions that render them impractical. Anyone suffering from a condition where seizures are a potential problem – such as epilepsy – are at risk of damage to their mouths from stainless steel metal straws, for example.  Glass straws are also available and whilst they may be better for ensuring that they are clean on reuse, they may break and cause injury and are not recommended. Moreover, metal and paper straws alike are not flexible, which is a major problem for people with mobility or posture issues.

Then there are the basic issues of hygiene. It is very well to say that straws are ‘reusable’ but that reuse must follow washing. For people caring for someone reliant on semi-solid foods, washing something as fiddly as a straw is not necessarily an easy job.

plastic straws

The biodegradable alternatives such as paper straws also pose a set of problems: even for non-disabled users, it is easy for the straw to turn to mush if a drink isn’t drunk quickly enough, or if chewed a little too much. For disabled users who may take a little longer to drink or who may have dexterity problems, this issue is magnified. The side effects might not be severe in themselves, but there is trouble enough eating through a straw as it is, without the added problem of finding it blocked or turning to pulp in your mouth.

It is true that alternatives are available – such as these silicon straws, which offer flexibility and safety – but they also cost a relatively large sum, and while on paper they are infinitely rewashable, we all know that in real life keeping specialist equipment clean isn’t easy and real world lifespans are not often as advertised.

Other specialist straws

There are other specialist products for other conditions – such as straws with one-way valves . One way valve straws allow you to suck and stop without losing the air pressure that keeps the liquid in the straw and are therefore useful for people who cannot suck very strongly or consistently. (We have discussed these before on a previous post). These are often plastic anyway and whether they will be exempt from a future ban is yet to be known. They carry an even greater price overhead, and come with the same issues around hygiene as the alternatives.

The argument for disabled people continuing to use plastic straws

To put things in perspective, the price of a single pack of silicon straws would be enough to buy almost two thousand single use plastic straws. Would those same pack of silicon straws last for 2000 meals and drinks? Maybe, but perhaps not…..

Perhaps the best way to consider this analogy would be rubber gloves. While it is possible to buy well-made, washable and reusable gloves, almost all healthcare now involved single use rubber or plastic gloves, for all the same reasons: they offer the best balance of hygiene and convenience. Yet in the current climate of panic, nobody seems to be suggesting that healthcare professionals stop using them.

We are all on the same side in wanting a solution to end plastic pollution in the oceans, but that cannot come at any cost. The dignity and safety of disabled people must still be considered, and in the rush towards a blanket ban it is important not to lose sight of these basic human needs and the large, often unheard, minority of disabled people for whom they are small part of living with dignity and independence.

screen shot of BBC website with Tanni in front of the Houses of Parliament and a headline "Plastic Straw ban disadvantages disabled people, says paralympian"

Baroness Thompson on the BBC news when a ban was proposed.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson spoke out when a ban was discussed in the UK :

“Disabled people will be seriously disadvantaged if we can’t find a proper alternative”.

Should you stock up?

A ban on plastic straws of some sorts looks increasingly likely. It’s unlikely that you will never be able to get them from anywhere, but if a ban does come into force you might struggle to get hold of them for a while. We’d certainly recommend considering stocking up if that would impact your life  – especially when you can bulk hundreds (or even thousands) for relatively little money.

Other Alternatives

Our friends at http://sturdystraw.co.uk/ sell a fantastic range of hygienic, bendable rubber straws – along with other accessories.

A man in a wheelchair showing a bottle with a plastic straw attached and the straw in a place he can reach it easily.

Mark developed sturdy straw and sells it from his website. It is position-able with a bendable rod and has accessories to make it work for you.

Another great thing to check out is the Hydrant drinking system – which comes with hanging clips and a bite valve to make drinking that bit easier.

 

On a final note, one thing you should not feel is guilty if your situation requires you to use plastic straws. While the issue is a big deal in the media, there has to be recognition of the role that plastic straws play in the lives of many disabled people, and that other problems – such as disposable water bottles, non-recyclable packaging are far bigger in scale without attracting anything like the attention.

Many of us use disposable medical equipment in our daily lives because there isn’t a practical reusable alternative in that situation, I would argue that disabled people using plastic straws should be considered in the same way.

This video explains the whole issue (and is awesome!)

Can Alexa be a telecare system to listen out when you need emergency help?

Could Amazon’s Alexa disrupt the telecare industry?

Amazon dot a small black disc gadget with blue lights.

Amazon ‘Echo dot’ is now arond £50 and can connect to your mobile phone.

If you need help and can’t reach a phone, Amazon’s Alexa could be a lifeline.

Amazon’s hands-free devices are becoming more and more popular for disabled people who are finding them a boon for enhancing daily life, with an easy interface and voice control of music, books, information  and web shopping. In homes up and down the country, people are using them for everything from ordering shopping online to checking the weather. And now they can call your friends and relatives when you want them, adding a new level of communication and if needed, support. Almost an Alexa telecare system!
Amazon has added a new function to Alexa to allow you to link your mobile phone and call a friend or relative.  You can use it to phone or message anyone hands-free using the alexa family of devices including Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Show or the Alexa app on android smart phones or iphones, all with no extra cost.

Could Alexa supplement or replace telecare alarms for some people?

The Telecare industry provides peace of mind for people at home who may need help in an emergency and their families, traditionally using push button pendants worn on the body or pullcords installed in the house. The Alexa Echo system means you won’t even need to access those devices to make a call straight to your nearest and dearest, so could provide competition.
On the plus side, there are no buttons to be pushed or cords to be pulled. Only your voice is needed to activate Alexa and get your call made or message sent to your friends or relatives. All they need to do is download the free app onto their phones, and they can be reached instantly whenever you want. It does mean they will need their phones on and charged at all times. It also means that you need to be in voice range of an alexa device and able to call out. You could buy the smaller echo dot (at £50) and put them in each room. There is a voice operated controller that could also be carried.
And it’s not just in an emergency that you can make a call. Alexa will let you stay in touch all the time, with a hands-free calling and messaging system. this could be very useful for people who struggle with the buttons on phones or understanding how to use smart phones. Alexa will let also let you know when someone is calling you and the light ring will pulse green on newer Echo devices. You ask Alexa to answer or ignore the call.

“Drop in” : remote listening by others to your room!

There is also a feature called Drop In that allows selected family and friends to automatically call in to your device and listen to anything happening in range. This has privacy issues but could also be very reassuring to family and can be completely controlled by the owner of the device.

 

Disadvantages of Alexa as a telecare device

On the other hand, Alexa’s benefits are offset by the lack of 24-hour monitoring and support from call centres that are provided by a local Council services or private companies and the device could be affected by power cuts, whereas telecare systems are protected with back-up batteries.
A dark cylinder that houses the gadget Amazon alexa

Amazon echo

 

Old man with a telecare alarm pendant

Alarms needn’t be stigmatising but some people may feel that way. Image from https://www.telecarechoice.co.uk/ who are a private telecare provider

Then there is the issue of cost. Alexa costs £50 for the smaller ‘echo dot’ system but as mentioned above, you may need more than one to provide coverage- and while it offers a whole lot more than just telecare of course, it could be a big cost to pay upfront, compared to the smaller weekly charge, (around £5 or less), for traditional telecare devices.

However, some people may be reluctant to have telecare installed because of the stigma issues of pendants and monitoring. ‘Alexa telecare’ may be much more appealing to younger people or as a stepping stone to more traditional telecare if it becomes needed or as a supplement to offer more options and a ‘less formal’ call for help.

So what else can it offer? Alexa brings a whole world of communication, including downloadable quizzes, podcasts and music from Amazon. You can listen to the news, find out about the weather and “check in” with friends and relatives – as well as order anything online from mail order giants Amazon.
For some it might be a good way to supplement your existing emergency telecare needs; for others, it could even replace it altogether. But it’s worth investigating the device before you make an investment in it.

Learn more about Alexa and Echo here: amazon.co.uk/alexacalling

A service directory of telecare providers is here https://www.tsa-voice.org.uk/service-provider-directory

Top Four Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters

Top Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters

 

Using a purpose made safety cutter makes opening those eagerly awaited mail order products so much quicker and safer! We’re buying more online than ever before and with online shopping comes box after box of not always well-wrapped goodies. Getting packages open is not easy at the best of times and it can be highly problematic if you have a disability which effects your limbs, grip, fine motor skills or coordination. Here we’re looking at some gadgets designed to make ripping open boxes and getting to your goodies easier than ever before, with an eye on their suitability for disabled people.

Many of the package openers on the market are utility tools which can be used around the home in other ways. Many cutters double up as kitchen tools, can be used for cutting ties off clothes, couponing, arts and crafts and much more.

iSlice Safety Cutter

Image shows the elongated, oval shaped safety slicer in a soft green colourThe iSlice Safety Cutter features a ceramic blade, which is quick, easy and safe to use. The device is a complete replacement for scissors and traditional safety knives. It can be used for removing film, shrink wrap or difficult moulded plastic packaging. It is also magnetised and has a built-in keyring hole making it portable and easy to use on the go.

 

Westcott Box Opener

Once again featuring a ceramic blade, this Westcott Utility Cutter benefits from a durable and robust design. Ceramic lasts up to 10 times longer than stainless steel so it makes for a long-lasting blade. The compact size of this box opener makes it a popular choice and the fixed blade and finger loop help when guiding and controlling the blade.

 

Zibra Open-It!

Image shows the red-coloured Zibra Open-it on a white backgroundSold as a product which relieves the stress of “wrap rage”, the Zibra Open-It is a strong utility cutter. It can slice through hard packaging as well as paper and plastic, easily breaking through twist ties and zip ties. It has additional functionality allowing it to pop bottle caps and unscrew bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

Nimble: The One-Finger Package Opener – Our Top Pick!

Yellow thimble shaped rubber cutting tool

Nimble Safety Cutter

Topping our list of package openers is the Nimble. This smart and unique device stands out because of its accessible design. Using just a single finger, this device makes it easy for people with a range of disabilities to easily cut and slice as required. A single finger swipe can cut open a box, food packaging or any other item, without any risk of injury. The safe blade profile offers no risk of injury and it the one-finger operation design (patent pending) means even if you have limited hand mobility, you should be able to properly use and benefit from the Nimble.

The Nimble package opener is suitable for people with joint paint, little hand strength, tremors and reduced hand-eye coordination, as well as in many other situations. The device was developed and tested by over 150 people, some with disabilities, some without and the result is this effective and well-designed cutter for many different items in the home.

Safe on the skin

A unique benefit of the Nimble is the small blade means it is very difficult to hurt yourself. It is so small that the ridges of your skin ridges actually move out of the way and it doesn’t cut you. I know it sounds incredible but it is probably the safest cutter on the market today. This makes it particularly useful for anyone with dexterity problems. The bright yellow colour is also a boon for those with a visual impairment.

 

 

You can see exactly how the Nimble works in this useful video:

Order your nimble directly from Amazon here  http://amzn.to/2nAGEEC